Kind-hearted student drops economics degree plan to make difference in Africa

Robert Turnbull is given a hero's welcome on a past visit to Nado Enterite Primary
Robert Turnbull is given a hero's welcome on a past visit to Nado Enterite Primary
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AN inspirational student is to travel to Kenya – to provide power to a rural primary school for the first time.

Robert Turnbull, 22, who lives in Polwarth, first met the pupils and staff of Nado Enterite Primary in 2010 when he spent eight weeks teaching as part of a charity project.

Eager to help improve conditions at the school, he dropped out of plans to study economics at university on his return from Africa and instead started an engineering course.

He said: “I didn’t think I would be that useful to anyone in this current climate with a degree in economics.”

Robert, who is now in his third year on Edinburgh Napier University’s energy and environmental engineering course, will return to the Kenyan village in January to install a 400-watt solar PV system. The technology will supply uninterrupted power to the school for the first time.

South African-born Robert said: “The school has been relying on an old oil generator for power. The fuel is expensive and it breaks down 

“When the fuel runs out, the parents are asked for money to buy more. Most families can’t afford to pay for school lunches never mind oil, so it will make a huge difference.”

Around 300 youngsters aged five to 18 study at the school, which lies in Kajiado district, south of Nairobi.

The new solar power system will replace a smaller 80-watt panel which Robert installed in June.

He said: “I paid for my flights myself but held an Indian meal in a local restaurant as a fundraiser, collecting about £460 for the equipment for the initial solar PV system and to pay a local family to host me.

“It gives the school two hours of light a day which means they can hold revision night classes.”

For his next visit in the New Year, Robert has secured a number of grants to pay for the solar power system’s upgrade.

Edinburgh Napier’s Student Grant Initiative has awarded Robert £700, while the university’s Institute for Sustainable Construction is covering the £563 transport costs.

Robert said: “I hope the new system will help the school eventually make an income, too. They will be able to allow locals to charge their mobile phones for a small fee.

“The energy will also power a new plug socket. My intention is to get the school a radio to plug in. The government broadcasts some school lessons on a national radio station, so older members of the community can come and learn here, too.”

Edinburgh Napier engineering lecturer Dr Tom Grassie said: “It is really great to see Robert using what he is learning here to benefit others.”